Who We Are

Founded in February, 2012, Upper West Strategies is a consultancy focused on driving economic opportunity at the intersection of government/education, private industry, the tech sector and mission-driven organizations. UWS has a long history of strategic planning projects with non-profit, governmental and for-profit clients, and a deep commitment to realizing the economic opportunity that education provides to diverse communities.

Richard Robbins is the founder and CEO of Upper West Strategies. He has extensive experience in strategy, marketing, policy and tech. Robbins has conducted a number of high-level strategy consulting and program development/execution efforts including for the National Society of Black Engineers, New York City’s Department of Education, New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, and other leading mission-driven, governmental, and corporate clients. He worked for nearly 10 years at AT&T in a range of positions including serving as Director, Social Innovation, where he played an instrumental role in developing the company’s overall social media strategy. He initiated and led AT&T’s groundbreaking partnership with Rock the Vote that engaged 250,000 young Americans via text messaging, and created AT&T’s pledge not to text and drive that has been signed by over 14 million people. Prior to getting his MBA at Columbia Business School, he ran the American Express Gold Card Events program at Festival Marketing, where he implemented strategies to dramatically grow the program’s impact, including through pioneering use of online media. He has deep connections with senior leaders in government, corporations, start-ups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations and especially in the tech startup community in New York City, and has a long history of developing innovative strategies for leveraging technology to reach target audiences. He lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and two daughters and serves on Manhattan Community Board 7.

Ken Blacklow is a principal at Upper West Strategies. Most recently, Ken worked in strategy consulting for mission-driven clients at the Cue Group, focusing on strategy, training, program design, and organizational development. Prior to joining the Cue Group, Ken was the Chief Operating Officer and 4XL Program Director for Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the presence of minorities in leading entry-level business careers and major graduate business schools as preparation for leadership position in corporations, non-profit organizations and entrepreneurial ventures. At MLT, Ken was responsible for growing the organization tenfold over 4 years. Ken has experience in the launch, management, and replication of innovative K-12 schools, and leadership program design and management. Prior to joining MLT, Ken worked in the private, public and nonprofit sectors both domestically and internationally. Ken remains civically engaged through board service where he served on a number of non-profit boards nationally and in New York City. He received his Master of Public Administration degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and his undergraduate degree from Harvard University. Ken loves sports, travel, wine tasting, photography and spending time with his family.

Strategy

UWS employs a rigorous process of information gathering, analysis, recommendations generation and implementation planning. The heart of the UWS information gathering process is direct outreach to key stakeholders through a series of in-depth interviews, which deliver clarity and perspective. These stakeholder interviews are complemented with client and stakeholder workshops, audience and community surveys, on-site observations and extensive document review to develop a deep understanding of our clients’ situation and needs. Once we have findings from the information-gathering phase, we take a simple, practical approach to analysis and recommendations generation to make sure that any recommendations can and will be implemented and are likely to succeed given every organization’s unique conditions. UWS doesn’t believe in fancy “consultant speak” that might sound impressive but doesn’t yield results. We believe in common-sense recommendations that work within our clients’ specific environments. After all, the best strategic plan in the world is worthless if it sits on a shelf and is never implemented. Finally, we work closely with our clients to ensure that they will be able to successfully implement the recommendations.

Program Development

Upon developing an understanding of our clients’ needs and objectives, we work to develop innovative program concepts and package them into a holistic plan that can be implemented to achieve and exceed goals. A key focus of UWS program development is ensuring community engagement throughout every process. While at AT&T, UWS’s Robbins developed several programs that had national impact, including a pledge not to text and drive, which Robbins suggested just as Facebook and Twitter were going mainstream, providing a perfect socially beneficial message for AT&T that customers could share with peers. To date, the pledge has been taken by over 14 million people and saved countless lives.

Program Execution

The best strategy, program design and partnerships only go so far. Ultimately, impeccable program execution is essential – this is where UWS delivers results. Relying on strong personal relationships, community and partnership engagement, an innovative approach to marketing and community outreach, and lots of hard work, UWS drives to achieve desired results for clients. As one example, New York City’s Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness retained UWS to reach out to companies to serve as internship hosts and secure 50 spots for student internship placements for the program in just one month. By using an innovative approach to marketing and outreach, UWS was able to secure 79 spots for placement, exceeding target by 58% and generating a large amount of positive publicity for the program’s sponsor, Bank of America.

Partnerships

UWS’s Robbins has over 20 years experience working for corporations (including nearly 10 years in-house at AT&T) and agencies, with corporate, governmental, non-profit, and tech startup clients. These experiences have given UWS a unique ability to identify opportunities for collaboration and partnership, and to bridge cultural gaps in developing and executing successful partnerships. UWS has a deep understanding of the needs, sensitivities and cultures of corporations, government, non-profits and tech, can “speak the language” at each and build strategic partnerships among the various sectors. In leading the Gold Card Events program, Robbins developed dozens of marketing sponsorships and partnerships between American Express and leading entertainment producers throughout the US. At AT&T, Robbins developed a wildly successful national partnership with the non-profit Rock the Vote for the ’08 election, which resulted in over 250,000 young people opting in to get text message alerts to keep them engaged in the election. UWS led sponsorship development and community outreach efforts for the 2014-2015 NYCEDC Next Top Makers program, attracting leading corporations to sponsor the program and engaging community leaders as advisors, mentors and judges for the program.